Greatness in Holy Servitude

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” He replied, ‘What do you wish me to do for you?” They answered him, “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” Mark 10:35–37

James and John were feeling quite bold. Their boldness may have come, in part, from the fact that they had become very familiar with the goodness of Jesus. He was unlike any other, and His genuineness was very evident to them. Therefore, they allowed themselves to slip into the trap of taking Jesus’ goodness for granted by seeking a selfish favor from our Lord. Jesus’ response is gentle and thoughtful, and, in the end, James and John are somewhat humbled by their attempt to obtain this selfish favor when the other disciples become “indignant” at their request.

Jesus summarizes His response to these disciples this way: “…whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.” Jesus, of course, was especially speaking about Himself. He was the greatest and the first among them. And for that reason, Jesus humbled Himself as their servant and the “slave of all.” Normally, the idea of being a slave has very negative connotations. Slavery is an abuse of the dignity of another. It’s a way of discarding the dignity of the person. But, nonetheless, Jesus says that the ideal way to be truly great is to become a slave of all.

When literal slavery is imposed upon another, this is a grave abuse. But there is another form of holy slavery of which Jesus is speaking. For Jesus, a holy slavery is one in which we give ourselves to another in a sacrificial way out of love. And this is what Jesus did to perfection. His death on the Cross was a true physical death. It was a sacrifice of His earthly life, but it was done freely and for the purpose of setting others free. In referring to Himself, Jesus explains His holy “slavery” when He says, “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus’ greatness is first found in the simple fact that He is God. But His greatness is made most manifest in His human nature when He gives His life “as a ransom for many.” It is the Cross that becomes the greatest act of loving service ever known. The fruit of His selfless sacrifice is the salvation of all who turn to Him. Thus, Jesus turns slavery and death into the greatest act of love ever known.

Reflect, today, upon your own calling to live a life of holy slavery. How is God calling you to sacrificially give yourself to others out of love? From a purely human point of view, the idea of sacrifice, servitude and even holy slavery is hard to comprehend. But when we use Jesus as the model, it becomes much clearer. Look for ways in which you can give yourself to others selflessly and know that the more you can imitate our Lord in this holy endeavor, the greater your life will be.

Lord of all holiness, Your greatness was made manifest in Your human nature by Your act of perfect servitude when You freely chose to die for the sins of those who turn to You for redemption. You humbled Yourself, taking on the form of a slave, so that all could be set free. Help me to always trust in Your great love and to continually open myself to the gift of redemption You offer. Jesus, I trust in You.